2013 Buffalo Bills Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info & Analysis

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IApril 19, 2013

2013 Buffalo Bills Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info & Analysis

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    It's another transition year for the Buffalo Bills.

    How much time that transition takes to unfold remains to be seen, but new quarterback-head coach combinations have succeeded out of the gate in the past.

    Of course, much of their success depends on the schedule, and the Bills play just five games against 2012 playoff teams.

    Now that we know who is playing, where they are playing and when they are playing, we can get a better feel for how the season could play out for Buffalo. Here are my game-by-game predictions for the Bills' 2013 season.

Week 1: vs. Patriots

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The last time the Bills hosted the Patriots in Week 1 was in 2003, and Buffalo held serve at home with a 31-0 drubbing of New England. Will things work out similarly?

    The Patriots defense has remained largely the same as 2012. So, the Bills should have no problem shredding them just as they did last year, right? Well, not exactly.

    For one, the Bills gutted their offense at wide receiver, quarterback and even on the offensive line. Also, the Patriots defense got gradually better over the final seven games of the season—after the Patriots had already played both games against the Bills.

    That was the point at which things finally began to settle down with all the movement of Devin McCourty to safety, Aqib Talib being plugged in at corner, Alfonzo Dennard emerging and Kyle Arrington being moved to the slot. They allowed a 73.2 passer rating in the final seven games after allowing a 97.3 over the first nine games.

    If the Bills get things gelled early in the season, this could be another one of those "surprisingly close" games between the Bills and Patriots that are no longer surprising because they happen all the time.

    With the recent trend of the Patriots defense and the dramatic changes to the Bills offense, as well as the continued problem of who will cover Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski (combined per-game average of 11.5 catches for 176.3 yards and two touchdowns), it could be another tough game for the Bills.

    Prediction: Patriots 24, Bills 12

Week 2: vs. Panthers

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, Fox

    Two home games kick off the season for the Bills, but will that mean two wins, or will the Bill have an uphill climb from a very early stage?

    The Bills had a hard time handling scrambling quarterbacks last year.

    It started in the preseason, when they got lit up by Vikings quarterback Joe Webb, of all people. It continued in the regular season when they allowed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to pile up 92 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries, followed by 44 yards on six carries to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill the next week.

    Think they'll have a hard time with Cam Newton? If Mike Pettine tries to send the kitchen sink at him on a blitz, that could very well be the case—we know Newton isn't afraid to take off with his legs. Look for the Bills to try to stem the damage from Newton by forcing him to stay in the pocket with containment on the edges and at least one spy at the second level.

    The Panthers defense made significant improvements from 2011 when they ranked at or near the bottom in almost every major category to 2012, when they were at least closer to mediocrity.

    Luke Kuechly might be one of the few linebackers in the NFL with the range to keep up with C.J. Spiller, and if pass-rushing dynamos Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are getting consistent pressure, the Bills offense could struggle a bit.

    Prediction: Panthers 24, Bills 20

Week 3: at Jets

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    Kickoff time and network: 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Jets offseason is loaded with nearly as many questions as the Bills offseason.

    How will Mark Sanchez take to the coaching of Marty Mornhinweg? Will he finally begin taking better care of the ball now that he's getting back to the West Coast offense which made him a top-five pick in the 2009 draft coming out of USC?

    Will the Jets defense come together with a brand new look after losing several key veterans this offseason?

    How will the Jets respond to their former defensive coordinator being on the sideline for their division rival? Mike Pettine might know the strengths and weaknesses of the Jets offense and defense better than anyone else in the division, save the Jets' personnel staff.

    The bigger question is, how much will that knowledge impact the game?

    Ultimately, it comes down to the players executing. The Jets have ranked in the top seven in defensive passer rating in each of Rex Ryan's four years as head coach. They have consistently been one of the league's best pass defenses every year under Ryan, and that's not expected to change, even despite all the change within the roster and the coaching staff. 

    Although it was under a previous regime, it's hard to ignore the Bills' 3-13 record on the road over the past two seasons in giving the Jets the upper hand this time around.

    Prediction: Jets 20, Bills 12

Week 4: vs. Ravens

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Bills could be in for a rough go of it to start the season.

    Usually, a team isn't coming off a Super Bowl win when they go through as much change in one offseason as the Ravens have.

    They lost several starters, including six on defense. They compensated for some of those losses by adding outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, inside linebacker Rolando McClain and safety Michael Huff, but will the brand new look on defense come together as a unit?

    Will the offense be the same without Anquan Boldin to turn Joe Flacco's prayers into miracles?

    They still have Torrey Smith, Ray Rice and the two tight ends, and if the offensive line plays anything like they did in the 2012 playoffs, the unit as a whole should work without a hitch. That being said, for all his merits, Flacco isn't a great quarterback under pressure, and if the Bills are able to bring some heat, things could get interesting.

    Flacco isn't going to have time to hang in the pocket and let Smith get open 15 to 20 yards downfield if Mike Pettine's defense is sending the kitchen sink at him. 

    The Ravens won two road playoff games, but in the regular season, they were a 4-4 team on the road. Likewise, the Bills were better at home than on the road, but still managed just a 4-4 home record. It may shock you, but give me the Super Bowl champions here.

    Prediction: Ravens 28, Bills 20

Week 5: at Browns

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    Kickoff time and network: 8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network (Thursday Night Football)

    The Bills were able to pull away early against the Browns in the last meeting with a pair of early touchdowns. The Browns simply couldn't muster enough offense to get back in the game. Running back Trent Richardson had a tough time getting in rhythm in 2012, but 12 carries for 27 yards (2.25 YPA) marked one of his worst performances of the year.

    The Browns offensive line is a solid unit, but how will they hold up against the highly athletic front four of the Bills, along with Pettine's exotic blitz packages?

    Brandon Weeden was well-protected in 2012 (pressured on 27.7 percent of dropbacks, ranked sixth), so it will be up to Weeden to get the ball out quicker (averaged 2.82 seconds in the pocket, one of the 10 longest averages in the NFL).

    Continued rapport with Josh Gordon should help that, but the Bills have an answer for Gordon in Stephon Gilmore. It could be up to Greg Little to have a big game—and if he's being covered by Leodis McKelvin, that's entirely likely.

    As for the Browns defense, put it this way: No matter who the quarterback is, they're going to have to find a way to get pressure on more than five passing downs (13.5 percent) as was the case in 2012 against the Bills.

    Even if Buffalo has a harder time up the middle with guard Andy Levitre gone, they should manage well enough in the other spots to buy time for their quarterback.

    The Bills pick up their first win of the season on the road.

    Prediction: Bills 24, Browns 20

Week 6: vs. Bengals

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    Yet another tough opponent for the Bills early in the season.

    The Bengals have one of the more underrated defenses in the league. They ranked in the top 10 against the pass and allowed just 5.6 net yards per pass attempt, the sixth-best average in the NFL. That number got a significant boost from their front seven, which brought down quarterbacks 51 times, the second-highest total in the league.

    Of course, the offense has gotten a majority of the headlines recently.

    Andy Dalton attempted a good portion of throws deep in 2012, ranking ninth out of 27 qualifying quarterbacks in attempts traveling 20 yards or more in the air.

    Even with that fact, Dalton was the third-least pressured quarterback in the NFL, with defenders near him on just 25.8 percent of his dropbacks. He even had the seventh-quickest time-to-throw average in the NFL, hanging in the pocket an average of 2.64 seconds on each drop-back.

    The Bills could have a tall task ahead of them to get pressure on Dalton to disrupt his rhythm, but also to stop him from getting the ball to A.J. Green downfield. In fact, exactly half of his 168 targets were on throws 10 yards downfield or further, and 45 of those 84 were deeper than 20 yards downfield.

    The Bills probably won't be too happy about seeing BenJarvus Green-Ellis again, either, as the dreadlocked running back has hit them for 4.5 yards-per-rush attempt and has scored a touchdown in four of his five games against Buffalo.

    Prediction: Bengals 31, Bills 10

Week 7: at Dolphins

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Bills could be worn out after a tough contest against the Bengals, and the Dolphins newly added athleticism will surely give them all they can handle on the road.

    C.J. Spiller had two stellar performances against the Dolphins in 2012, in two of the only games where he was actually a big part of the game plan. He had 44 carries for 229 yards and seven catches for 74 yards total. He averaged over 150 yards from scrimmage against the Dolphins.

    Perhaps, Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe's added athleticism will present a bigger problem for Spiller, but neither Kevin Burnett nor Karlos Dansby were terribly egregious in terms of missing tackles in the open field. 

    Ryan Tannehill has a bunch of brand new weapons to throw to on the offensive side, but Mike Pettine specializes in taking away the passing game. Say what you will about Buffalo's secondary, but it is a physical and athletic group if nothing else.

    That being said, the Dolphins offseason overhaul carries much more promise than the Bills does, as it comes with a bit more talent on both sides of the ball. 

    The Dolphins current group of receivers—Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, Davone Bess and Brian Hartline—all possess solid athleticism, and if Tannehill can evade the pressure and buy himself some time, they could hand the Bills another crushing loss.

    Prediction: Dolphins 23, Bills 21

Week 8: at Saints

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    Things don't get much easier for the Bills as they travel to New Orleans in Week 8.

    For a 7-9 team, the Saints sure had one heck of an offense in 2012. They ranked first in passing yards and passing touchdowns and were still able to run the ball for a respectable 4.3 yards per carry. 

    Make no mistake, the struggles of their 2012 season could be placed primarily on a defense which gave up an historic number of yards—the most in NFL history, in fact. It's not likely that all that's going to change in one offseason, although the return of Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma should help.

    With a defense that allowed an average of 5.2 yards per carry and 7.4 net yards per pass attempt—both the worst in the league—it's safe to say the improvement will have to come across the board. C.J. Spiller could have a good day against a Saints defense that allowed 64 rushes of 10 yards or more, the third-most in the league.

    That being said, the Bills simply don't have the firepower in the passing game to keep up with the Saints offense.

    Prediction: Saints 31, Bills 10

Week 9: vs. Chiefs

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Chiefs are in many of the same situations the Bills are in. The Chiefs and Bills both have new head coaches, will have a new starting quarterback in 2013, possess untapped potential on defense and have explosive running backs.

    The difference: One head coach has been to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl, while the other will be coaching in his first NFL game this season.

    The Chiefs will have many of the necessary components to attacking what the Bills will likely try to do on defense. Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is a great receiver at getting separation against man coverage and has the physicality to beat a jam.

    The elusiveness of running back Jamaal Charles will be a great counter to the one-gap attacking defense of Mike Pettine. The Chiefs also have an efficient quarterback in Alex Smith.

    The Chiefs defense, on the other hand, is largely the same unit which the Bills racked up 35 points against in Week 2 in 2012. That being said, as has been pointed out in this column repeatedly, the Bills offense is still very much in flux at receiver and quarterback, so who knows if the Bills will be able to take advantage of the Chiefs like they did last year. 

    Prediction: Chiefs 27, Bills 23

Week 10: at Steelers

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    Both the Bills and the Steelers are going under a great deal of change this offseason, but the Steelers have two people they can fall back on to help them remain competitive: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin. Will that be a cure-all for them in 2013?

    The Steelers got in a bit of trouble with the salary cap, which has forced them into a bit of a transition phase. Eight of their starters from 2012 will be elsewhere in 2013: wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis, linebacker James Harrison, guard Willie Colon, defensive tackle Casey Hampton, left tackle Max Starks and safety Will Allen.

    They have never missed the playoffs twice in the Roethlisberger era, but with so much turnover on both sides of the ball, they could have another down year in 2012. 

    If the Bills are going to have any success against the Steelers, they'll have to take advantage of what's been a shaky offensive line over the years; the Steelers lost two starters, and there could be some issues along the line if the Steelers can't replace them adequately. Look for an aggressive game plan from Pettine if that's the case.

    Prediction: Bills 19, Steelers 17

Week 11: vs. Jets

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Jets had recently owned this matchup with a five-game win streak, but were upended in a one-sided Week 17 game that revealed these teams are very close.

    Both are amid a big transition phase right now, with a lot of long-term questions and not a lot of top-end talent. 

    As is the case with many of the Bills games this season, the key will be how often C.J. Spiller gets the ball.

    Spiller has consistently made a big impact against the Jets and had 42 total touches for 325 yards and two touchdowns in two games against them last year. He had a touchdown run of 56 yards in the season opener and a catch-and-run touchdown of 66 yards in the season finale.

    Doug Marrone proved he's not afraid to run the ball in 2012, when his Syracuse Orange ranked first in the Big East in rush attempts per game. If Spiller gets enough cracks at it, he could have another big play or two against the Jets in his future.

    Mark Sanchez has dominated the Bills for awhile, but struggled against them in Week 17, completing less than 50 percent of his passes for just 5.9 yards per attempt and a 54.8 passer rating.

    Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine knows Sanchez's weaknesses, though, so if he's the starting quarterback, as expected, the Jets offense could really struggle.

    Prediction: Bills 23, Jets 14

Week 12: Bye Week

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    The Bills are hoping to raise their level of play this year, but at the bye week, I have them at a dismal 2-9. A lot of tough opponents and a few tough breaks have left the Bills with more questions than answers.

    If things work out as I envision, the Bills will have to put some good tape together with jobs on the line.

Week 13: vs. Falcons

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    Kickoff time and network: 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox

    Unfortunately for the Bills, the tests do not get easier immediately after the bye.

    The Falcons will likely be among the best teams in the NFC once again and were nearly as good on the road (6-2) as they were at home (8-2, including playoffs). 

    They have been an on-and-off dominant team in the regular season: 9-7 in 2009, 13-3 in 2010, 10-6 in 2011, 13-3 again in 2012. They have been to the playoffs each of the past three years, so there's little reason to assume they'll suffer a setback this year. That's especially true considering the return of tight end Tony Gonzalez and safety William Moore.

    Losing defensive end John Abraham, defensive tackle Vance Walker and cornerback Dunta Robinson will hurt, so it will be interesting to see how their defense responds after ranking a respectable fifth in points, but a shoddy 24th in yards allowed in 2012.

    One area they should be improved in is the running game with the addition of Steven Jackson. The Falcons couldn't get the ball moving on the ground last year and averaged just 87 yards per game and 3.7 YPA, both ranking 29th in the NFL.

    They could have success exploiting the Bills run defense, which allowed a league-worst 5.04 YPA, but even if not, the Bills don't have answers for both Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside.

    Prediction: Falcons 27, Bills 16

Week 14: at Buccaneers

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Buccaneers' big offseason addition, thus far, was safety Dashon Goldson, who should help shore up the back-end of the defense alongside Mark Barron. Losing defensive end Michael Bennett, linebacker Quincy Black and defensive backs E.J. Biggers and Ronde Barber could be tough to overcome in one offseason, though. 

    The pass defense was already a problem last year and could be a problem again in 2013 with so much change on the back-end.

    Against the run, though, they were one of the league's best and are poised for another good season in that regard. C.J. Spiller could have a tough time getting in rhythm against a Tampa Bay front which allowed a league-low 3.5 yards-per-rush attempt.

    In his fifth year in the NFL, it may be put-up-or-shut-up time for quarterback Josh Freeman. He may be as well-equipped as ever to "put up" consistently for the first time in his career.

    Wide receiver Vincent Jackson gives them a legitimate No. 1, which finally allows Mike Williams to flourish in his more natural role as the team's No. 2 receiver. Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount provide a great two-headed punch at running back. With the returned health of the offensive line, the Bucs could be poised for a big season.

    Unless the Bills get a lot better at stopping the run this offseason, Martin could go off just as he did so many times in 2012.

    Prediction: Buccaneers 30, Bills 14

Week 15: at Jaguars

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Jaguars are a complete mess and are entering the season with their third head coach in the past four years. 

    The personnel has taken a major shift, as well. Almost their entire starting secondary from 2012 is gone, as are a couple of key players on defense in defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and linebacker Daryl Smith. 

    The jury is still out on Blaine Gabbert as the starting quarterback for 2013, and no one would be surprised if the Jaguars looked to add a quarterback via the draft. For all of his struggles, though, he was not bad under pressure, hitting his target on 70.8 percent of throws with a defender in his vicinity. 

    If the Jaguars are going to be successful on offense, it's likely going to be because of their No. 1 receiver Justin Blackmon, and of course, running back Maurice Jones-Drew. 

    In short, the Jaguars are a lot like the Bills, except Buffalo's turnover has come primarily on offense. They will also have a different starting quarterback than 2012 no matter what, with Fitzpatrick having been cut earlier this offseason. 

    Will the Bills be focused on the pass, as Doug Marrone has been in his time in the NFL, or will they prove adaptable as Marrone did in 2012 with Syracuse? Either way, the Jaguars don't look to have the ammunition to stop it on defense.

    Prediction: Bills 23, Jaguars 12

Week 16: vs. Dolphins

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Dolphins effectively bottled up the Bills offense in the previous two meetings, holding the offense to just 22 points on offense (29 total points with a punt returned for a touchdown).

    With a new and improved look at linebacker, the Bills are hoping to keep C.J. Spiller bottled up, but with big changes for the Bills at wide receiver and from the Dolphins at cornerback, that matchup remains a question mark.

    Ryan Tannehill didn't look particularly impressive in either contest in 2012, completing 50.9 percent of his passes overall and throwing two interceptions in the final four minutes of the first meeting.

    If the Bills can bring an innovative defensive package to take away Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller and get good pressure on Tannehill, it could be a long day for the Dolphins offense.

    Both the Dolphins and the Bills are under major changes this offseason, and whether those changes are for the better or worse, we'll probably have our answer by this point.

    That being said, the Bills could still hand the Dolphins an upset at home, especially if their defense is able to get consistent pressure against the Dolphins' offensive line.

    Prediction: Bills 19, Dolphins 17

Week 17: at Patriots

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    Kickoff time and network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    Closing out the season against the Patriots is not what the Bills are hoping for if their season goes anything like I predict.

    The Bills are going to have a challenge in stopping Tom Brady, but it's not one they're completely incapable of accomplishing.

    That being said, their back seven is not equipped to deal with the Patriots tight ends, specifically at linebacker where they could have problems with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

    Manny Lawson isn't going to help in that regard, and Kelvin Sheppard has been trying to keep up with them for two years to no avail.

    The Patriots offensive line had a great deal of success knocking the Bills defense off the ball in last year's contests. Brady was only pressured a combined 20 times on 77 dropbacks (25.97 percent).

    The running game was successful, as well. A heavy dose of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden could be in store once again, after the trio gashed the Bills for 346 yards on 65 carries (5.3 YPA) in two games last year. 

    If the Patriots' front seven brings its A-game to shut down C.J. Spiller, and if Aqib Talib is able to shut down Stevie Johnson, the Patriots defense could also have its way with Buffalo.

    Prediction: Patriots 31, Bills 17